For this lavish production, Kobayashi drew extensively on his own training as a student of painting and fine arts. Indeed, the breadth of the film's poetic expression is unmatched; breathtakingly photographed on handpainted sets, the film is at once a miniature writ large, and an abstract wash of luminescent colors that seem to hail from another world.
On the soundtrack, an electronic score by avant-garde composer Toru Takemitsu plays hauntingly with the natural sounds — crickets, rain, the cracking of wood, the loud silence of snow. This interaction of the film's plastic and aural textures with the simple, aching humanity of Hearn's tales serves to accentuate the power of the storytelling: four episodes about mortals caught up in forces beyond their comprehension — when the supernatural world intervenes in their lives.
The four stories
"The Black Hair" was adapted from "The Reconciliation", which appeared in Hearn's collection Shadowings (1900). A man living in Kyoto divorces his wife, a weaver, for another woman, in order to attain greater social status. The marriage is unhappy, and his wife expels him from their home. He returns to his first wife, who readily accepts him, but later he discovers her to be no more than clothing, hair and a skull.
"The Woman of the Snow" is adapted from Hearn's Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903). It depicts the folkloric character of Yuki-onna, a ghostly female figure who inhabits snowy regions.
"In a Cup of Tea" is adapted from Hearn's Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs (1902). In a Cup of Tea", a samurai drinks water in a cup of tea, and he sees the soul of a former samurai. Later, he is haunted by the spirit.
Perhaps the definitive adaptation of Hearn's work, Kwaidan also presents the author's most emblematic tale — "Hoichi, the Earless", in which a blind young monk journeys every night to an abandoned graveyard, compelled by the ghosts of a famous battle to retell their story, over and over again.